KOLKATA: West Bengal government has decided to distribute 20 lakh bicycles to the students studying in Class-IX to XII before the 2021 Assembly elections.
The state government had decided to distribute 10 lakh bicycles to the students during the ongoing financial year but CM Mamata Banerjee instructed the officials concerned to double the volume.
Under the CM's flagship 'Sabuj Sathi' scheme which was launched in 2015-2016, 84 lakh students have been provided with bicycles to go to school. The scheme bagged the prestigious World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award under the United Nations.
"The reopening of the schools is yet to be decided. The CM has directed us to prepare the lists of students and distribute the bicycles among them. She clearly instructed us to ensure that not a single eligible student is deprived of this benefit," said a state government official.
The distribution of bicycles among students is overseen by the Backward Class Welfare Department. The department already floated a tender for procuring 10 lakh bicycles. "Now we are going to float another tender for procuring additional 10 lakh bicycles as the chief minister has directed us to double the volume," said the official.
The scheme, which was appreciated both in internal and national platforms, proved effective as the state, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2020, topped the list of states with the least school dropouts.
A section of the bureaucrats found the government's move aimed at the upcoming Assembly elections. "Since it is an ongoing project, the model code of conduct before the election will have no adverse impact on it. A bicycle in a poor family in rural Bengal helps to meet many other purposes other than using it as comfortable and eco-friendly transport means to go to school. And it is expected that the distribution of 20 lakh bicycles will result in electoral dividend favouring the ruling party," said another official.